Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

SJ in the NT: Example of Spiritual Poverty

Posted by Chris on November 3, 2006


Most people think of dragons, the end times, the Antichrist, etc… when they think of the Book of Revelation. And while those kinds of things take up most of the book, there are some other sections that are quite different. Chapters 2 and 3 include 7 letters to churches, written to warn them and encourage them. The letter to the church at Laodicea is probably the best known because of the famous verse about Christ spitting the lukewarm out of his mouth. The context of Laodicea and the rest of the letter are also valuable, including bringing a perspective to social justice.

Let me preface this by saying I have no historical background- the history I will use came simply from a Greek lexicon and one anonymous commentator on Revelation and a Google search to verify that information. Laodicea was a wealthy town and the site of a medical school and served as a banking center for Asia Minor. It was so proud of its ability to sustain itself that it refused Roman monetary aid after an earthquake that destroyed many cities.

What follows the lukewarm verse are a series of statements by Christ that deconstruct what I’ll call the Laodicean myth; using the wrong benchmark to judge one’s own position/status. In Rev 3:17, Jesus says it this way: “You say, ‘I am rich’… But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” In verse 18, he tells them if they want to be rich, buy his gold, acquire new clothes, and put salve on their eyes. Laodicea was a banking center- it had a lot of gold. It also produced a garment and a powder that was used to treat eye diseases along with its medical school. Basically, Jesus makes a mockery of their strong points to emphasize their spiritual poverty and de-emphasize their material wealth.

Christ’s words are to the Church in Laodicea, not the town as a whole. This means that Christians were not free from this materialism. Spiritual poverty and materialism do not have to be bedfellows. Certainly there are those who are both materially and spiritually poor. But, I will assert that materialism breeds spiritual poverty. Who gives the best testimonies about their trust in God about their health? Those who are or have been sick. Who usually cries out to God about a romantic relationship? Those who have been through conflict. Should it be that way? Yes and no. We should all be on our knees for these things. Laodicean Christians obviously did not submit their financial lives to the Lordship of Christ and thus fell into spiritual poverty, leading Christ to strike at that which was blinding them.

What is the relation to social justice? As Christians, we need to be aware of spiritual poverty. First, in our own lives. Our sin separates us from God and from those we want to help. Second, in those we wish to serve. Jesus said in Matt 6, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Helping people attain what Jesus tells Laodiceans is “the gold refined in the fire” takes precedent over distributing gold, Au in the Periodic table. In fact, it is our duty- if we feed people’s stomachs and not their hearts, they remain “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” Third, our sin collectively results in the poverty of the world- we must remember that- but there’s also a need for us to have the resolve and courage to stand up against the spiritual poverty of certain individuals/governments/organizations that particularly cripple the abilities of millions of people to live a comfortable life.

after all, there is no such thing as anonymity.


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